Leaders in the Church of Ireland have spoken out against racism and the “shameful” slave trade in the West, as they called on local churches to support black and minority ethnic (BME) groups.
In a statement on the Black Lives Matter movement, the Church and Society Commission of the Church of Ireland said the deaths of George Floyd and other black people because of racism “deserve our prayerful remembrance”.
“The movement has brought to the fore the fact that racism permeates so many aspects of society. The stories emerging of the experiences of black people and other people of ethnic minority has been a salutary lesson for us all,” the Commission said.
It called the African slave trade a “shameful period in Western society”, adding that although some Christians like William Wilberforce played an active role in its abolition, many others were complicit.
“However, we must recognise that many Christians were involved in this trade either actively or as investors, and that many opposed its abolition,” it said.
“We lament the fact that Churches often provided biblical and theological justification for this evil trade.”
The Commission went on to say that there was still “conscious and unconscious racism in our Church and in society as a whole”.
The way forward, it suggested, must lie in listening to the experiences and concerns of BME groups, and seeking to address them “constructively”.
This should include, the Commission said, an acknowledgement of the racist ties that some monuments and statues in churches may have.
“Sometimes evidence of this hidden history [of racism] lies behind statues and monuments, some of which are in churches,” the Commission said.
“As we become more aware of this, we hope to ensure that this aspect of history is appropriately recorded and acknowledged within the context of each monument.”
The Commission concluded with a call to churches to tackle racism in their communities as part of their “Christian witness”.
“Racism is still with us. As Ireland, North and South, becomes more racially diverse and inclusive, we are appalled by outbreaks of racist attacks, insults and discrimination which occur all too frequently,” it said.
“We stand against such attacks and insults and we encourage church and other locally-based initiatives which provide welcome and support to all black and other ethnic minority individuals in our society, as part of our Christian witness.”